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Health Insight March 2001: Children's issues
Return to the main health insight page | the main March 2001 Health insight page

A recent report shows a rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity in English children. Between 1989 and 1998, among three to four-year-old children, there was a 60 per cent increase in the prevalence of being overweight, and a 70 per cent increase in the prevalence of obesity. The figures have heightened concern that these children will grow into obese adults, with increased risks for cardiovascular disease, such as raised blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. The author of the report suggests that parents should implement regular family meals, so they can monitor what their children eat. Children should also be encouraged to have more physical activity and spend less time in sedentary activities, such as watching television.

Teenagers from the UK are more likely than most of their European counterparts to have taken drugs, drunk alcohol or smoked. A report, written by Dr Martin Plant of the Edinburgh-based Alcohol and Health Research Centre, shows that, although there has been a slight decline in illicit drug use since the last survey of this kind, UK teenagers are more likely than most Europeans to have taken a variety of illicit substances.

Cannabis proved to be the favourite drug with just over 35 per cent of 15 and 16-year-olds having tried it. Just under 65 per cent had smoked conventional cigarettes, while more than 75 per cent confessed to having been drunk at some time. Brian Idden MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Abuse, called for a 'complete rethink' of anti-drug and alcohol policy in the UK. He said, 'We need to have a national strategy in Britain for alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. We can point out the health risks to young people and I don't think these are pointed out enough in this country'.

The government has announced a 60m boost to tackle child poverty in low-income areas, even before children are born. The money will extend the Sure Start programme to cover pregnant women and their partners for the first time, alongside families with children under four-years-old. The funding will enable expectant mothers and their partners to access a wide range of advice and support services from the time of conception, rather than birth, and will help tackle problems such as poor nutrition, low birth weight, smoking, and access to benefits. More information on Sure Start can be seen on www.surestart.gov.uk

When British babies get on the move, a report from the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) says, they do so in one of the safest countries in the world. The report published the first-ever league table of child death by injury among the 26 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In the world's richest nations preventable injuries are the leading cause of death, with over 20,000 children dying every year. In the UK the poorest children are up to four times more likely to die from injuries than those in richer households, although overall Britain has the second best child safety record (the first being Sweden). Roger Vincent, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said it was encouraging that the UK had a relatively good record on child accident deaths. He said greater efforts were needed to educate the public, and in particular children, about risk.

BMJ 10 February
BBC Online
Press release (DoH)

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